An Ecological History of Life. Geerat J.
Vermeij. Princeton University Press,
Princeton, NJ, 1987. 504 pp.

In an era in which the basic assumptions of evolutionary theory are being re-examined, it is interesting to read an “unreconstructed” adaptationist selectionist manifesto. Geerat Vermeij, professor of zoology at the University of Maryland, is a master naturalist. In Evolution and Escalation he takes the ideas developed from studies on adaption of snail shells, combines them with adaptive studies across the realm of biology (the book has 84 pages of literature citations), and formulates a theory of evolutionary history as a history of increasing ability to solve problems, overcome risks and succeed competitively. The idea of escalation enters as the contention that the challenges of evolution increase constantly because the context of life changes as evolutionary developments accumulate over time.

At the heart of Vermeij’s theory is the assumption that...

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